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November 11, 2005

American cultures of life and cultures of death

I am in Chicago today to talk about Booker at an event co-sponsored by the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  But with a little pre-event down time, I was inspired to get on-line after reading on the plane an amazing article by David Garland, entitled "Capital Punishment and American Culture," that appears in the October 2005 issue of Punishment & Society.  Garland's essay is a terrific account of culture, politics and the death penalty which explores and disputes important recent work by Franklin Zimring and James Whitman on this topic.  (The Punishment & Society issue in which Garland's essay appears also includes intriguing replies by Zimring and Wilson.)

Garland's read is especially timely at this moment because there is reason to believe, based on amazing developments just this week, that the American culture of the death penalty is in the midst of significant transformation.  As I have suggested here, the election of Tim Kaine as Governor of Virginia, despite his open personal opposition to the death penalty, perhaps marks a significant change in death penalty politics.  And the stunning editorial series this week from the Birmingham News, entitled "Choosing Life in a Death Penalty State," fittingly closes with this commentary extolling our criminal justice system to embrace a culture of life rather than a culture of death.

Interestingly, as this news article details, one new hot spot for the death penalty debate is Massachusetts: the state legislature there is about to debate Governor Mitt Romney's proposal for developing a "foolproof" system of capital punishment (recent details in this prior post).  Throughout American history, of course, events in Massachusetts have had important cultural reverberations.  Time will tell if this may prove true in the area of the death penalty.

November 11, 2005 at 12:07 PM | Permalink

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